Best practices in leadership development programs

Last updated: November 30, 2018

group of leaders

Best practices in leadership development programs

Ongoing leadership development programs can lead to greater change than smaller one-off events. Several sessions over the course of many months or a year are more effective than an attempt to pack everything together over a short period. This also allows school leaders to implement, experiment or digest the new learning within their school setting. When the content is presented in manageable segments, leaders are more likely to put it into practice back at the school.

These programs can be offered in a variety of online and in-person formats, including:

  • face-to-face in-service or workshops
  • online videos and/or demonstrations
  • discussion time or blogs
  • in-school coaching
  • challenges or goal setting
  • District support

Face-to-face in-service or workshops

The use of face-to-face in-service sessions or workshops helps develop a community of learners, which is essential to the success of any program. We know that learning is both social and emotional, so providing face-to-face time adds value by strengthening relationships with the learning community and nurturing a culture of learning among participants.

Online videos or demonstrations

Online videos and/or demonstrations allow participants to ‘see’ what something looks like, which can be particularly effective, for example, when discussing and practicing learning conversations. Participants can see how others might approach a situation and then discuss how the approach did or didn’t work. This approach – combined with role-playing exercises – builds confidence among participants and increases the likelihood of them engaging in learning conversations with their teachers.

image of a group discussion

Discussion time and/or blogs

It’s essential to include time for discussion and making sure people feel comfortable asking questions. When a group comes together in conversation, they often develop insights that participants had not thought of individually.

Blogs – and comments on blogs – are also an opportunity for people to reflect, inquire and learn. Anyone who has been involved in learning discussions knows that valuable thoughts often take time to develop and sometimes come to us after the fact. Blogs are helpful tools that allow participants to continue the conversation beyond face-to-face time. They can provide a great forum for people to ask questions, offer their own perspectives and support continuous learning.

In-school visits and coaching

When you walk into a school, you quickly get a feeling for its culture. In-school coaching can help leaders see their school culture and organization in new ways and identify strengths and areas that can be improved. Having a group of leaders visit other schools can give participants the opportunity to see how different schools are run. It also gives the host a chance to hear what external observers see and hear about their school.

Challenges or goal setting

With a learning design that builds over time, each session can be concluded with a challenge or goal-setting, based on the new learning of the session, to be accomplished at the school. A discussion of how the challenge or goal was met can then be the first order of business in the next session.

This strategy helps create a cohesive program and gives participants the time to practice new skills. It also adds accountability to the learning community and strengthens the learning culture among the participants of the leadership program.

For example, after a session on having learning conversations with a teacher, each participant could make an action plan to have such a conversation with a particular teacher back at their school. The participant can then talk about this experience with the learning community in the leadership program. This discussion allows participants to raise questions, share feelings and learn from others.

image of teamwork and support

District support

As in professional learning directed to teachers, a leadership development program really thrives when supervisors support it. District personnel could certainly be active members within the sessions – perhaps someone from human resources can talk about issues related to managing an organization in terms of policy and procedures.

However, although district support is essential, you may want to think about whether having district supervisors attend sessions might negatively affect the culture within the program. District personnel, in most cases, have supervisory duties over administrators. This may make it difficult for administrators to feel comfortable taking risks in their learning when they are alongside someone whose job it is to evaluate them is in the room. This is less of an issue when principals are engaged in learning alongside teachers as these two groups spend much more time with each other and are more likely to be starting from a shared culture of learning and exploration.

Beyond the end of the program

A leadership development program be an ongoing process. Even beyond the formal “end” of the program, participants can continue to meet regularly with their trusted learning community of peers. Monthly meetings could build on learning conversations about what is going well and/or problems or challenges at the school.

This approach can also be beneficial in terms of self-assessment. Administrators can identify an area they would like to improve or build upon, and learning conversations can provide a useful structure for that improvement.